01.07.2021 - why i'm on neocities
The C is for Community, Connection, and Creation
One of my 8th grade teacher said something one day that really stuck with me. It was a hot day (as most are in Southern California), and all the students had just returned from P.E. Everyone was undoubtedly tired out, and the musty air of the trailer made focusing on subject matters hard, so it was a welcome relief when he told everyone that we wouldn't be starting on the next science segment just yet. Instead, he had all of us try our hardest to think about what we had been thinking about throughout the day. I don't recall his exact words anymore, but it was surprising just how little I could recall of what went through my mind. It was a bit of a challenge he proposed to us. To think and reflect about what thoughts pass through our minds, and to be a little more cognizant of what occupies our time.
This idea has..come back to me today, because I'm realizing just how little of what passes through my mind and mouth is of any substance. I don't mean that in a self-deprecating way, really, but ever since COVID necessitated a social distancing and isolation, I've spoken much less to others verbally. I live at home with my mother now, and while I love her, I can't say anything to her. I lack the language. I cannot speak meaningfully to her because I genuinely do not have the words in Cantonese to express things. And that's fine, that's been a normal for a long time. But now, I don't have a structural network, like the setting of academia, to engage with others. I'm also finding that even with what I have, I don't use my time very wisely. In classes, I make my best attempts to participate. If you're a fellow college student, then you'll understand what I mean when I say that it is not the same. It is not the same in the slightest. Sometimes, your questions don't go through clearly, muddled by glitches. Or the professor, misinterpreting your words, goes off on a tangent, but you don't feel prepared to correct them since you feel uncomfortable enough just speaking to a screen in your house. Group work, awkward and clumsy as it is in real life, is made exponentially worse by the new uncertainty of webcams. I prefer to keep it on. I like the idea that I'm talking to someone. Most disagree, and would rather keep their privacy, or have network and hardware issues that make video chatting inaccessible. That's fine. But the discomfort of being the one face showing in a breakout room with 5 others is enough to make me turn mine off as well, and then. Those groups are usually the ones where everyone stays silent.
Very little passes through my physical mouth these days. With one exception. I find solace in digital spaces, where I can connect to others through Discord. I've been lucky enough to find some new friends online, and I really can't say just how much it means to have company. (Thank you, Cass and Yana, for the invitation to your spaces. It means the world to be able to have connected with y'all, since my other friends and I have drifted [There is a mental before and after here. Friends from Before that I've lost contact with, lost similarities and practical connections outside of shared interests.].) Yet, I fall into this trap that many people with low self-esteem might also share - I've based my self worth off of the idea of getting a few laughs, and while it means so much to me when people react with laughter to what I say, I do realize it gets a bit. Grating. The person that my mouth would present is best experienced in small doses.
So this is where blogging and webmastery comes in. I've always craved a customizable digital 'home.' The urge to create is a very core aspect of humanity. Not to be too dramatic, but the first humans made tools and statues and cities and paintings, and then kept making. It's in our bone marrow. I made a F*cebook account before I was even 13 because I loved the idea of having a profile, where I could create pretty usernames, pick funny profile pictures, or curate a timeline of my own drawings and interests. It's a deeply human urge, to want to feel seen by others, and to see as well. I'm lonely a lot, that much should be clear. People want to be with others. What do you think, "meet me on the other side" means? Other side of the screen. However, social media is not what it used to be. I've got every account under the sun, but it doesn't make me happy. Having multiple medias should serve to liberate you, enable you to experience new frameworks for your ideas. Instead, what it feels like is a rat race to keep up with trends and to gain a following and to constantly consume. I know this isn't an original critique by any means. The collapsing of content through social media feeds, the harmful popularity standards of 'likes,' and all the other thinkpiece topics out there have probably been written on. But it's important to me that I try to express it anyways, to notice my own consumptive habits.
Neocities, and the idea of an old web revival, is a way to combat some of the worst parts of consumption. Consuming isn't a bad thing - it's a part of the experience of life, but we know it means something different in a capitalist framework. Consumers contribute to the economy. Consumers have data that can be sold to generate profit. Consumers will devour whatever trivial junk a corporation tosses at them because of trends and novelty, and we can study the psychology of how to appeal to consumers. Being a consumer means you are the buyer and the product, and the idea of the consumer structurally justifies a lot of the bullshit that happens! I'm tired of being something that generates data; that's not something I consent to making. It benefits entities, not individuals, to live like this. And the way trends work gives attention, collective attention, to things that are shallow. Social media is a circus show, and we are the bread.
It's different here. You know it, I know it. It's the reason why we're here. Us, with our homespun webpages, full of our own quirks and flairs, expressed in a way that doesn't brand us. Our listings of digital neighbors and friends, like a string of lanterns lit on a summer night. We don't really know if our sites get seen - sure, there's the hits and visitors count, but it's less of a 'like' for me and more of like a footprint. In the forest of my digital space, people don't get to litter my consciousness with trash. Corporations don't get to capitalize on my time through ads, society at large doesn't get to bother me over pop cultural monoliths. It's peaceful. Being on Neocities also reminds me that I am not a machine. I don't need to brand my IG profile to enter a cutthroat artist community, I don't need to generate witty sound-bites to a claim at Twitter fame. What I make is what I do for me, for the sake of my own tastes and interests.
With all that I talk about myself on here, I can also say that it's not lonely on this medium. There are others tending to their own webpages as well, and I deeply enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor. The coding framework of Neocities also creates a practical similarity I had missed. We're all here, in this metaphorical workshop, to improve our craft. We're a cohort of designers and curators, with no pressure of a deadline and no grades at the end. And it's the little things we share that make it so meaningful to me. We might have little else seemingly in common, but maybe we both have a journal and we share the same insecurities. Or maybe you do something that opens my mind entirely to a new possibility. Others, by simply being themselves, inspire me to live my embodied life in different ways, not just my digital ones.
A final note, since this has gotten too long-winded already: Having a website like this made me realize how important it is to break the association between the act of creating and the validation of numbers. So many websites on here have made me LOSE my mind with how good they are, and yet it only counts as one view, or a couple hits. But I want every one of these creators to know that they have made something truly wonderful. It makes me think about how there might be secret, silent lovers of my own out there. And it makes me care less and less about popularity, and more and more about making a masterpiece, worthy of your time.
final final note: i still want to meet you on the other side. engagement is pretty sweet, and i don't mean to detract from how much it means to me when people leave a comment or message me or anything. we don't have to be lifelong friends or anything if that's just not how we vibe, but come through; someone someday should, can, and will meet me.
inspirationjoel hooks- digital garden
tom critchlow - digital garden